We’re seeing a new pattern in work relations emerging. The big employers, emboldened by having their party in power and using the recession as an excuse, are attacking workers’ pay and conditions. But this isn’t 1991 redux. The unionised workers of today have joined voluntarily and believe in collective action; the unions are no longer dinosaurs with a disaffected membership and outdated modes of organising.
Synovate, Zeal, Telecom, NZ Bus, Open Country, the list goes on; the bosses are finding they have a fight on their hands when they attack workers’ rights.
The battle is spreading into the public sector. Not the core public service – contrary to popular belief, most so-called ‘bureaucrats’ are terrified of appearing politically biased and meekly accept the job and pay cuts – but the wider public service is a different story.
Yesterday, members of the Tertiary Education Union at six polytechs voted to strike having rejected demands from their employers that they work more teaching hours under worse conditions. This comes after National ministers Anne Tolley and Tony Ryall broke the State Sector Act rules on public sector pay negotiations by calling polytech CEOs to Wellington and telling them they must impose a pay freeze.
Today, firefighters of the Professional Firefighters Union will protest at the opening of the Mt Roskill fire-station. Their pay talks have stalled and they are infuriated by wasteful management decisions at the same time as the service’s front-line firefighting capability is being run down.
It’s awesome to see workers standing strong in the face of attacks on their jobs, their wages, and their work conditions. The obvious concern, though, is that in the face of worker resistance the bosses will turn to the Government and demand it tips the playing field further in their favour by gutting workers’ rights. Perhaps even by claiming that ‘industrial unrest’ neccessitates a reduction in labour rights.
We’re seeing this already at Open Country Cheese, with the company demanding the Government restrict the right to strike. The Minister of Labour is also trying to use the air traffic controllers’ dispute to take away our rest breaks.
Once again, the battle lines are drawn. Only this time the employers have a far bigger fight on their hands than they imagined.